I only mention Greta Garbo (or "Gerta Garber," as the teenage girl put it when Turner Classic Movies came to the local mall a few years ago and held games and handed out prizes) (Katie-Bar-The-Door won the TCM edition of "Scene-It") to remind you that during the Early Sound Era she was paradoxically at the height of her popularity while doing the worst work of her career.
Her first sound movie, Anna Christie, came out in 1930 and although Garbo received an Oscar nomination for it, it was actually Marie Dressler in a supporting performance who commands the screen (I gave her a Katie for the effort). Garbo followed up with Romance, Inspiration, Susan Lenox, Mata Hari and Grand Hotel (the last winning the Oscar for best picture of 1931-32), all hits, all showcasing Garbo struggling to make the transition from the overly broad, Kabuki theater style of the Silent Era to the dialed-down style more appropriate to sound pictures.
Ironically, once she got it, with Queen Christina in 1933, American audiences stopped going to see her. Her "I vant to be alone" persona, coupled with the hot house orchid plotlines of her pictures, alienated moviegoers struggling with the depths of the Great Depression. None of her movies after Queen Christina turned a profit domestically and it was only Garbo's huge following in Europe that made her attractive to MGM's paymasters. The moment Hitler's armies closed off that market, Garbo read the writing on the wall and retired.
But she was one of the greats (already with a Katie on her mantle for her performance in 1926's Flesh and the Devil) and although she won't receive another Katie nomination until 1933, she was actually one of the big stars of the Early Sound Era. So here's to you, Miss Garbo. I know you're out there somewhere, alone but not lonely, and never forgotten.
Rêve Décorée: Frances Farmer
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